SCARPERIA, ITALY // The Formula One team Ferrari chose the Mugello circuit in Scarperia to unveil its car for season 2009, and usher in a new era for the legendary outfit and for F1. The world's financial crisis has had a worrying effect on F1, with Honda's withdrawal raising fears that some teams may not survive. But with FIA, the sport's governing body, and teams agreeing to cut costs this season and beyond, the dark clouds are slowly disappearing.
That was the message at the launch of the F60, as Felipe Massa took the car out on the track for its first test. A loud roar from the 056 engine and a blur of red was all it took to announce its presence. It is the bright hope for a team that had a troubled 2008 season despite retaining the constructors' championship. Lewis Hamilton, in his McLaren, won the drivers' championship in a thrilling finale against Massa.
Defeat hurts. So too does the plight of F1. Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari team director, admitted times are hard, but said he hoped the F60, backed by UAE companies Mubadala and Etihad, would be a pivotal moment in the sport. "With the name, we wanted to celebrate the fact that Ferrari is the only team to have always been in the World Championship [since the first one in 1950]," he said. "The history of Formula One is twinned with the history of Ferrari.
"This is why we need to support Formula One in this difficult situation, and F1 needs to come out of this strengthened and not weakened ... We hope with the F60 we are going to have an F120 one day. "This is a very significant moment as we are giving a very strong input on how the future of F1 should be. What we are aiming for is the common good. The unity among teams that we have seen in recent months is unprecedented, but totally necessary.
"We live from and for Formula One so compromises have got to be made. We know we are standing before a very challenging season and one which will be very stimulating in every sense, from the political to the technical." The new Kinetic Energy Recovery System is a major change. Expensive though it may be and a strange introduction in the current economic climate, Domenicali is hoping it will provide easier overtaking. The same for the slicker tyres and aerodynamic changes, with the wings altered.
There are, and will be, teething problems but ultimately Ferrari's objective has not changed as Domenicali and his drivers, Massa and the former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, agreed. "Staying on top, that is the objective," said Domenicali, hoping that despite reduced testing, the team will be flying high when it starts the first race in Australia on March 29 and finishes in Abu Dhabi, where Yas Island will stage the season-ending event on Nov 1.
"Over the last 10 years we have won eight times. Over the last months we introduced several modifications, to find solutions, to limit costs. These modifications had an impact on the car's technical preparations. "There will be even more challenges and technical modifications to do in the short term, and I think that whoever is able to exploit the car in the best way will prevail against the other teams.
"We want to improve every single aspect of the team and strengthening the areas where we didn't give 100 per cent. Other teams could have a car much more advanced so it's right to be cautious, but we hope our car will be competitive from the start." Mistakes proved costly to the Ferrari challenge last season as both Massa, who lost the Singapore Grand Prix when he left the pits with a fuel nozzle still attached to his car, and Raikkonen suffered.
But the two are determined to come out on top this year. "Every year I feel stronger," Massa said. "I think after so much experience in these six years I feel stronger. I feel more experienced, especially after last year with how difficult the championship was." Raikkonen finished third in the title race but won only two races. "Last year was not exactly what I wanted, but that is in the past now and we will try again this year," he said.
"Of course it is a big question mark how good the car will be because the rules have changed a lot, but we are very confident that the car should be very good and we will see in the next few weeks how good it is against the others. "For sure we'll try to win the world championships, but we'll see how it is and we'll go from there." Raikkonen has also been cleared by his bosses to take part in Finland's Arctic Rally along with his countryman, Mika Hakkinen.
The race is to be held from Jan 22 to 24, but Domenicali said: "I see it as two more days of testing. We have an open attitude with our drivers and this is part of that." firstname.lastname@example.org